Middle East
3:58 pm
Wed March 20, 2013

Obama Stresses 'Unbreakable Alliance' On Visit To Israel

Originally published on Sun March 24, 2013 8:21 am

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block.

(SOUNDBITE OF ISRAELI MILITARY BAND MUSIC)

BLOCK: A musical greeting today for President Obama, as he arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was there, along with a military band. Israel is Obama's first stop on a four-day tour. Today, the president declared that despite big changes sweeping the Middle East, the U.S. alliance with Israel remains eternal.

After that ceremonial showing of goodwill, the two leaders got down to business. NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president, and he joins us now. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Melissa.

BLOCK: You know, President Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu, have had a famously strained relationship in the past. Are they pushing the reset button here?

HORSLEY: Well, they're at least trying to put a smiling face on that relationship. While they were posing for pictures today with the prime minister's wife, President Obama joked that she was a rose between two thorns. And the two men have had a sometimes-thorny relationship. Today, though, the talk was all about the unbreakable alliance between the countries. That's, in fact, the slogan for this visit. You see it emblazoned on coffee mugs, and banners that are hanging in the streets here. Obama's hoping that a very visible show of support for Israel on this trip might make it easier to ask this country to make some tough choices down the road.

(SOUNDBITE OF PREPARED REMARKS)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So as I begin this visit, let me say as clearly as I can, the United States of America stands with the state of Israel because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel. It makes us both stronger. It makes us both more prosperous. And it makes the world a better place.

BLOCK: And Scott, for his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu seemed to be helping Obama out a bit, highlighting the support that's he's given Israel over these years.

HORSLEY: He was. Netanyahu offered a very explicit thanks today for the way the administration stood up for Israel at the U.N., for the high level of cooperation militarily, and for U.S. assistance with Israel's anti-missile defense system. In fact, moments after Obama arrived here today, he and Netanyahu visited a missile battery from the Iron Dome system, which Israel's very proud of. It's been used to thwart hundreds of rocket attacks over the last couple of years.

BLOCK: Now, Scott, there are still some important areas of tension between these two leaders on issues such as Iran. They had a lengthy sit-down meeting this afternoon. What came out of it?

HORSLEY: Well, probably the most important tension is how to respond to Iran's nuclear threat. And the administration has vowed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Israel wants to keep Iran from even getting close to that point. But after their meeting, the two men appeared to be giving one another some space. Here's President Obama.

OBAMA: There is not a lot of light, a lot of daylight, between our countries' assessments, in terms of where Iran is right now. I think that what Bibi alluded to - which is absolutely correct - is, each country has to make its own decisions when it comes to the awesome decision to engage in any kind of military action.

HORSLEY: And Netanyahu repeatedly said he appreciated the president's declaring Israel's right to defend itself, even as the U.S. tries to pursue a diplomatic solution.

BLOCK: Well, Israel is the first stop on President Obama's tour. He goes to the West Bank tomorrow; he'll visit Jordan later. What's the broader goal here?

HORSLEY: Well, as he's done in visiting Israel, he'll spend some time talking with ordinary Palestinians, as well as the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. And he says he'll have more to say about the two-state peace process when he delivers a speech to the Israeli public here in Jerusalem. This remains a very challenging neighborhood that the president has chosen to make his first foreign trip of his second term.

BLOCK: OK, Scott. Thanks so much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Scott Horsley, speaking with us from Israel, where President Obama has begun a four-day trip in the Middle East. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.